Black box from crashed Lion Air plane recovered by Indonesian divers in first step to understanding cause of tragedy

  • The Lion Air flight with 189 on board lost contact a few minutes after take-off, crashing moments later in the nation’s worst air disaster in two decades
  • The fallout from the crash continues, with the carrier suspending a number of executives over the disaster
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 11:44am

A black box from the crashed Lion Air jet has been recovered, authorities said Thursday, a find that could be critical to establishing why a brand new jet plunged into the Java Sea soon after take-off, killing 189 people on board.

Divers plucked the orange data recorder from the ocean and placed it in a plastic tub as search teams continued to scour the seabed for the fuselage of the Boeing-737 MAX 8, which crashed off Indonesia’s northern coast on Monday and had only been in service a few months.

“The flight data recorder contains the CSMU – Crash-Survivable Memory Unit – which is a very important element,” said Ony Suryo Wibowo, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Committee.

“We have received all the data including flight data from air navigation. We found that there was indeed a fault [in the aircraft], but to find the exact technical problem we will need the data from the black box.”

Earlier, National Search and Rescue Agency head Muhammad Syaugi confirmed the data recorder had been located 500 metres from the coordinates of the missing plane.

“We hope that this will shine a light [into the crash] to speed up the investigation … we hope that this is good news for the victims’ families,” he said.

There have been no survivors and only body parts have been found so far.

Relatives are desperate to be able to say goodbye to their loved ones and the first funeral for one of the passengers was held on Thursday.

But many others have yet to be located and analysts hope further victims can still be found with the bulk of the wreckage.

“I assume that there will be a lot of bodies still strapped into the seats,” aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo said.

Dozens of divers are taking part in the massive recovery effort along with helicopters and ships, but authorities have all but ruled out finding any survivors.

Why does Indonesia have such a notorious air safety record?

The black boxes, which airlines are required to install, offer investigators their best chance of discovering why such a new jet crashed. The devices record information about the speed, altitude and direction of the plane as well as flight crew conversations.

Authorities say a flight data recorder was recovered, but they were still looking for the cockpit voice recorder.

“To determine the cause of the crash we need the cockpit voice recorder too, but if we can’t find it there are still many ways to determine the cause of the crash,” said Wibowo.

On a Jakarta dockside Thursday, Boeing and US National Transportation Safety Board officials joined the Indonesian team in sifting through twisted metal plane parts and piles of passengers’ torn clothing, shoes, wallets and mobile phones.

The single-aisle Boeing plane, which was on its way from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang city, is one of the world’s newest and most advanced commercial passenger jets.

Despite the name, black boxes are in fact bright orange with reflective stripes. They are built to survive at vast depths and in extreme heat, and are fitted with a beacon which can emit a signal for one month.

Black boxes help explain nearly 90 per cent of all crashes, according to aviation experts.

“Data from the plane – the engine, all the instruments – are recorded there,” Sudibyo said. “If there is an anomaly, some technical problem, it is recorded there too.”

‘My body also has these parts’: Lion Air rescuers speak

Passengers’ remains are being sent to hospital for DNA comparison to relatives.

Forensic experts identified Jannatun Cintya Dewi as the first victim of the crash on Wednesday evening.

The 24-year-old civil servant’s coffin was carried by pallbearers through the streets of her East Java hometown Sidoarjo on Thursday.

Dewi’s mother collapsed and had to be carried into their home, while friends and relatives wiped away tears as the casket was laid in a freshly dug grave sprinkled with flowers. A bowl of fruit and two palm branches lay at one end.

Some relatives have shared heart wrenching tales of their final contact with loved ones.

A selfie taken by a newlywed husband, Deryl Fida Febrianto, and sent to his wife some 30 minutes before the aircraft crashed has gone viral online.

Aviation experts are puzzled by the accident but say it’s too early to determine what caused the crash.

Lion’s admission that the jet had an unspecified technical issue on a previous flight – as well as its abrupt fatal dive – have raised questions about whether it had faults specific to the newly released model, including a speed-and-altitude system malfunction.

The accident has also resurrected concerns about Indonesia’s poor air safety record which until recently saw the country’s carriers facing years-long bans from entering European Union and US airspace.

Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said the government had requested Lion Air to suspend a number of officials over the crash.

“This doesn’t mean that they have been fired …[their licences] are suspended to warn them that they are responsible,” he said. “Whether they can work again or not depends on the investigation.”

The budget carrier has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air planes at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport.

In 2014, an AirAsia crash in the Java Sea during stormy weather killed 162 people.